The Philippines has recently made the decision to acquire its first-ever submarine, a move driven by the ongoing tensions with China in the South China Sea. This decision comes in response to increasing Chinese aggression and their use of Gray Zone tactics in the region.
The French Naval Group, one of the top contenders, has offered its Scorpene submarines to enhance the Philippines Navy's capabilities significantly. The Philippines has also received submarine offers from South Korea, Russia, and Turkey for local manufacturing. In addition to acquiring a submarine, the Philippines is looking to develop its submarine-building capacity and training capabilities. Reports indicate that Philippine Navy personnel have already undergone training in France, suggesting that the Naval Group's Scorpène-class diesel-electric submarines are a leading choice. These submarines are similar to those operated by Brazil, Chile, India, and Malaysia and feature six torpedo tubes and the capability to deploy 18 munitions, including SM 39 Exocet anti-ship missiles and F21 heavyweight torpedoes.
However, budget constraints have posed challenges to the Philippines' submarine acquisition plan, with an estimated budget of 70-100 billion Philippine Pesos (approximately 1.25-1.80 billion USD) for two submarines. This procurement is part of the Philippines Navy's Horizon 3 modernization plan, scheduled for 2023-2028. It will take at least five years for the first submarine to become operational once the deal is finalized.
The power imbalance between China and the Philippines is substantial, with China having a significantly larger GDP and maritime military capability. To counteract China's assertiveness and Gray Zone operations, the Philippines is seeking to strengthen its naval forces by acquiring a submarine, aligning with like-minded countries, and building internal capability.
China's Gray Zone operations involve non-military tactics aimed at coercing weaker countries, including economic influence, political interference, and misinformation. Deterring such aggression is challenging, and weaker nations can benefit from cooperation and information sharing to counter these tactics effectively.
In addition to the submarine acquisition, the Philippines has signed a deal to purchase BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles from India. This strategic move will bolster its defense capabilities, particularly in the South China Sea region. The Philippines is also forming strategic alliances with foreign powers in the Indo-Pacific, including the United States, to defend against armed attacks and assert its sovereignty in the face of China's territorial encroachments. This includes updating defense agreements and conducting joint maritime drills to deter Chinese aggression in the region.